BANNED BOOK CLUB by KIM HYUN SOOK
A REVIEW by ALEXA DUNCAN
For my first review of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I knew I wanted to pick up something that would help be better understand the wide and varied history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook is not about an Asian American, per se, but its contents and history it tells directly impacts the Korean diaspora to this day.
Banned Book Club tells the true story of Kim Hyun Sook, who is studying English Language and Literature at Anjeon University in South Korea, circa 1983. The 80s were a time of enormous political unrest for South Koreans, with a dictator for president and a military regime that had no qualms about killing hundreds of people for wanting to speak out against oppression. When Hyun Sook attends her first day of classes at university, she’s asked to join a book club. There are already heated student protests going on throughout the country, even at Anjeong. Hyun Sook wants no part of it and is only there to learn.
Until she joins this book club. A banned book club wherein its members only read material expressly banned by the government. English language novels such as Moby Dick and The Scarlet Letter, The Communist Manifesto, Korean protest works, and so much more. At first, Hyun Sook is terrified and wants to leave the club, but the more she stays, the more she learns about what the South Korean government is hiding from them–from book banning to the murder and torture of its own civilians.
I truly loved everything about this graphic novel. The art is in black and white, which gives the impression of a newspaper. Newspapers are very important in the novel and to the protest movement as a whole. The dialogue isn’t too much, as it can be in some graphic novels. Indeed, author and illustrator strike the right balance between pictures and words to create a dynamic reading experience. Writing a graphic novel about this little-known piece of world history is also a great and accessible way for people to learn about it.
South Korea, after all, has a rich history of demonstration and protest. The Gwangju Uprising, which happened in 1980–three years before the events of this graphic novel–is widely seen as a pivotal event in South Korea’s struggle for democracy. It’s also a frighteningly timely novel as much of what it talks about deals with censorship, book banning, and the right to protest. The same issues we’re sadly still dealing with today.
You can pick up Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook at the Oreana Library today!